Archive for June, 2010

Irish Professionals in Australia: Connecting CAN Partners

Richard Reid is curating the much-anticipated Irish in Australia exhibition for the National Museum of Australia. It cuts across a wide range of themes but the Collections Australia Network (CAN) has decided to focus on the success stories of Irish professionals to showcase the collections of its CAN Partners. From notorious bushranger Ned Kelly in Victoria to celebrated South Australian mineowner Charles Hervey Bagot, this story travels across the country from first settlement until the end of WWII. Our CAN Partners have provided the Outreach Blog with some fascinating and inspiring stories about Irish settlers. Australia boasts the world’s largest population of Irish descendants per capita outside Ireland, offering many more stories that can be found in collections across the country. CAN has worked in partnership with the National Museum to assist in collection research, as well as help promote our Partners’ collections and the national exhibition which opens on St Patrick’s Day 2011.

Google Earth image mapping organisations holding material relating to Irish professionals in Australia.

Western Australia
Durack Collection / State Library of Western Australia collection on CAN
Durack 6
The Durack family surveyed land across the Kimberley, Western Australia in 1882-83 that would be fit for cattle. Michael Patrick Durack, the eldest of four sons was sent in 1886 to the head-station, Argyle Downs, arriving just in time for the Halls Creek goldrush. As a pastoral entrepeneur, Durack developed overseas markets for his cattle from the Philippines and Brazil. He became a leader of his community as justice of the peace and in 1917 entered State parliament as a Nationalist member of the Legislative Assembly for Kimberley. Under his guidance, Argyle Downs was known for looking after its Aboriginal employees.

This passport was issued to Tommy Chrongen 4 August 1904 by Michael Patrick Durack stating the bearer was returning to his native country for two moons holiday and for anyone on the way to assist with food and transport if required and bill to Argyle Downs Station.

South Australia
Kapunda Historical Society collection on CAN
Kapunda has the distinction of being the oldest copper mining town in Australia – the birthplace of Australia’s commercial mining history and key to the early development of South Australia. In 1842, Charles Hervey Bagot’s youngest son discovered an outcrop of copper ore in Kapunda. Bagot’s management of the mine hauled South Australia back from the brink of bankruptcy and helped finance the construction of some of the most impressive buildings in the State. The town gave the Captain Bagot a sterling silver cup on his retirement and departure back to England for his role in the mine’s success, known as Bagot’s Cup.

Doctor Matthew Blood was the first official doctor at the mines and first resident general practitioner in the district. He also became renowned as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Blood was mayor of Kapunda when the Duke of Edinburgh visited the town and the mines in 1867. In 1859, the Reverend William Oldham took over the management of the Kapunda mine from his retiring friend of many years and ran Mine Rifles Company.

Discover Eumundi collection on CAN
Samuel Kelly left Ballydrain in Northern Ireland in 1871 with his family when he was just five years old and developed a taste for the working the land in Geelong. When Samuel was sixteen his family decided to return to Northern Ireland and he stayed on to forge his future in becoming a pioneer in the Eumundi area. fire in his belly and a sparkle in his eye, the young twenty year old man started his career by transporting felled trees by bullock and by water to Pettigrew’s Mill at Maroochydore. The timber industry was flourishing and within a short period of time he purchased 20 acres of land for herding his bullocks. Kelly turned his attention to grazing and dairying, leaving the operation of the bullock teams to his three sons. Over the next forty years was an active member of Caboolture Divisional Board, now known as the Maroochy Shire, the dairy industry, school, farmers’ co-operative, community hall. He even set up a butcher shop. The Eumundi Discovery Centre has an extensive collection of settler stories like this one of Irishman Samuel Kelly.

Central Highlands Regional Library Corporation collection on CAN
Francis Wilson Niven left Dublin for Victoria with his wife Elizabeth Close in search of gold in the 1850s. After limited success, Niven purchased a small lithographic plant for £40, and despite having no practical knowledge of the art, taught himself lithography. Soon he was able to import one of the earliest known commercial steam lithographic presses into Australia. He produced the beautiful History of Ballarat by W. B. Withers and The Cyclopedia of Victoria which provides an extraordinary resource of historical and biographical information, now in the Central Highlands Regional Library collection. Niven & Co also produced mining plans, maps and panoramas of Ballarat that contributed to extension of the mining industry. This is the first issue of the first edition of the History of Ballarat published in 1870, with the coloured title page and colophon F.W. Niven Steam Litho.

Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection collection on CAN
Martin Edwards was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment on 17th August 1819, and transported to Van Diemen’s Land, when he was 19 years old. His crime is not certain, but it was possibly forgery. He is listed in convict records as an assistant teacher in a school in Dublin but he was also described as a labourer. He became a fairly prominent landowner and businessman in Launceston, Tasmania, within two years of the expiry of his sentence, and was regarded as a ‘gentleman’. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery have photographs of his premises taken by Frank Hurley and the original land grants.

This map of Launceston, Tasmania 1856 is a land survey map showing the land grants for Martin Edwards at the corner of Wellman and Arthur streets and on the corner of Brisbane and Charles Streets.

National Gallery of Australia collection online
Sidney Nolan, Death of Constable Scanlon, 1946, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Sunday Reed 1977

Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series is a significant part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. It can be accessed through the gallery’s own collection search, on the CAN database and through Picture Australia on CAN.

Ned Kelly won the hearts of the common people by reacting against the unscrupulous squatter practices of forcing small selectors off their land. He justified the thievery by playing up to his Irish heritage and claiming that he, and others like him, were victims of their establishment and anti-Irish police – even though 80% of police were Irish at the time. and his brothers were forced to resort to stock stealing and other unlawful activities just to survive. Glenrowan, the hometown of the Kelly family and the place where most notorious bushranger had his last shoot-out, boasts a striking seven metre high statue of Ned Kelly with his rifle. At Stringbark Creek, Kelly shot two of the four policemen dead including Constable Scanlon which became the subject of one of Sidney Nolan’s paintings began his best known series of works based on Ned Kelly and the bushranger legend in 1945, which were exhibited in Paris in 1948. These two artworks are part in the National Gallery of Australia.

Northern Territory
Katherine Museum (secondary material not online)
In 1909, Timothy and Catherine (O’Keefe) O’Shea arrived in Port Darwin ready to start prospecting for gold. They found their way to Pine Creek where they built a home and pegged down the rights to the Enterprise Mine. O’Shea then went on to build a billiard saloon, a hotel and worked on the railway line from Pine Creek to Emungalan from 1917 to 1926.

Timothy O’Shea is pictured standing beside his wife on their wedding day with very dusty shoes. They had walked from Tralee to Killarney in Ireland to the ceremony in 1907. He hired his suit, hat and gloves for the occasion. They went on to have six children.


The Eco Museum in Fairfield

Fairfield Museum and Art Gallery Director Cedric Boudjema

An Eco-Museum is being developed in Fairfield as a strategy to represent the most diverse municipality in Australia. When director Cedric Boudjema took on the Fairfield Museum directorship in November 2008, he saw the need to collaborate with the community to build a more reflective collection. The Fairfield City Museum and Art Gallery collection was primarily objects from white settlement yet the municipality is Australia’s most culturally diverse — 52 per cent of the population is overseas born and home to more than 50 nationalities.

He borrowed the ‘eco museum’ model, developed in France in the 1970s, with its main aim to preserve tangible and intangible heritage. Mr Boudjema wanted to record the objects migrants arrive with in Australia. He is also interested in what happens to a language and culture when it is influenced by living in another country. ‘The Uruguyans arrived in the 1960s and when they came, they played the drums. Now they play with Australian kids and it is no longer just for their community,’ Mr Boudjema said. ‘I want to look at how a group of people manage this transformation process when they arrive in a new place.’

One of the first major exhibitions, Fairfield has developed, using the ‘eco museum’ philosophy looks at traditional costumes from 50 migrant groups. Curator Janise Derbyshire is working with Mr Boudjema to develop the exhibition and public program using the whole municipality as its exhibition space. Photographer Danny Huynh is taking portraits of each of the communities wearing their traditional costume in front of their houses (to become part of the exhibition). Textile workshops will invite different nationalities to share their techniques. The costumes will be on display in as many locations as the museum can develop partnerships with so that it can make the shire a living museum.

Image by Danny Hunyh, Hmong community (Cara Yang, Bruce Yang, Sarsha Yang, Pa Yang & Madelin Yang), Courtesy of the artist / Fairfield City Museum and Art Gallery

Not only is Fairfield Museum taking its collection into the community, it is also inviting communities to borrow the objects. The Museum will teach those interested about how to care for the artefacts and then encourage them to use the collection items as part of their own customs. This philosophy was developed by Julian Spalding while he worked at the Glasgow Museums Service. Another example of this practice is at the Albury City LibraryMuseum. They act as a caretaker for the community’s possum skin cloak so the Elders can collect it from the Museum and take it to schools or wear it in ceremonies. Mr Boudjema said, ‘the living heritage museum is about this accessibility of the collection. The collection is no longer destined to the museum only but to the communities.’

Cross-pollination is the idea that underpins the Collections Australia Network’s (CAN) strategy. It values sharing methodologies, resources and knowledge between the gallery, library, archive and museum sectors. Fairfield Museum uploaded a selection of objects from its collection onto CAN last month.


Crafty ways to communicate: Catrina Vignando

Craft Australia is using social media as a gateway to its collection while it researches how to put the collection on its own website. The peak body uses Flickr to host part of the National Historical Collection and is systematically digitising images dating back to the 1960s. Another Flickr set is trying to crowdsource funding for image preservation.

General manager Catrina Vignando has been experimenting with the opportunities the Internet has to offer Craft Australia since 2003. Their first foray into Web 2.0 was with open access journals and online forums – the former provided a place for researchers and practice-based artists to be published with academic rigeur. The forums offered a chance for artists and arts workers to form a community and share ideas.

Ian Mowbray, Spine Platter 2, 1988, Flickr / Craft Australia, (c)

One of the most successful projects is the National Forums that are held every two years. Ms Vignando set them up to overcome the issue of geographic isolation and to open-up possibilities to connect with international audiences. right way: the future of indigenous craft uses the Ning network to host conference videos and discussion forums. Youth@craft·design: Creating and making a living in the arts today was the focus in 2006 and in 2004 Craft Australia looked at contemporary craft in a digital future.


Museum Victoria deploys citizen scientists


Victorian school students will participate in a citizen science project that allows them to learn about their State’s fauna later this year. The Biodiversity Snapshots program will provide students with a tool that can be used on a mobile device like a smartphone or laptop. The tool will include a simple field guide to common species and a way of recording observations of species they see around them. The observations collected will be uploaded into a central database where they can be analysed as a classroom exercise or sent on to be used by researchers as part of the EarthWarch Institute’s ClimateWatch program.

The mobile learning kits are being developed for the school syllabus by Museum Victoria and will be incorporated into school assignments. Museum Victoria is basing the kits on 300 species from its natural sciences collection – focusing on marine, possum and geological species. It will avoid dangerous fauna like venomous snakes. The data collected will also contribute to the Museum’s natural science collection level description.

Museum Victoria Collection Information Management Systems Manager Ely Wallis has been managing the initiative, in partnership with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Atlas of Living Australia (a biodiversity data management system). The Museum started work on the project last November and will be launched mid this year.


As quick as a Flash?: Funding an online journal

A Melbourne-based photomedia artist made a one-off donation to the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) to set-up an online journal. This was to cover the set-up costs and the first four issues. Monash University Museum of Art exhibition curator Kyla McFarlane took on the role of editor and commissioned well-known arts writers to produce high quality, long-form articles. The online journal — Flash — would be quarterly and take on the personality of a traditional academic periodical. CCP will publish the fourth issue in July and then will need to seek out a new funding source. The donor is not happy and is withdrawing their support so the team is currently working on the last scheduled issue.

CCP director Naomi Cass believes there was an expectation that the editorial would focus on the private donor’s colleagues and friends. This has caused a problem as Ms Cass and Ms McFarlane were not prepared to compromise the integrity of the arts writers or the Centre. As they contemplate the future of Flash, they are assessing the success of the journal. What would they do differently? What are they proud of? To what extent should they be influenced by Web 2.0 and traditional forms of publishing? Should they offer the online magazine in a print-on-demand format?

They have jotted down the successes and challenges of Flash for the benefit of anyone looking to set-up their own online journal or wanting to support the continuation of Flash.

1. Ability to attract a wild mix of writers outside the photography discipline in an online format
2. High quality editing rather than relying on open-source
3. Long-form articles provide a really good read. passionate and authoritative articles
4. Beautiful interface
5. Broader reach than a print journal

1. A quarterly journal has made it difficult to gain momentum on the Web
2. It has not been able to start a dialogue with the photography community
3. Small budget has compromised the number writers that could be commissioned
4. Small budget has restricted ability to build on opportunities the online journal offered
5. Functionality of WordPress

Email Naomi Cass if you would like to offer support.


Convergence: Albury City LibraryMuseum: Carina Clement

Carina Clement talks to CAN about the benefits and challenges of cross-pollination within the new Albury City LibraryMuseum facility. As the Cultural Programs Team Leader, she has been working with the team to fine tune the convergence process — from collection policy and education right through to professional development and infrastructure. This is an edited transcript of an interview made at the LibraryMuseum in late April. Ms Clement’s slides from a presentation are also embedded into this article for those wanting to learn more.

When we first started the plan for the building, it was always going to be a co-located library and museum. Then we were asked what facilities we could share — what synergies are there between libraries and museums? So I think we started looking at what models were out there and state libraries were certainly one of those models, in that they have collections that are not just books and electronic resources, they have objects, artefacts, photographs and maps, etcetera.

Albury City LibraryMuseum

They had that whole range of resources. They have exhibition spaces. They curate exhibitions so that was done in one of their models. In the local government area, in Australia the Parramatta Heritage Centre, was another of our models in that it’s a museum, a community art space, a local studies space and they have integrated interest information. They have integrated staffing so that was one of the places we looked at.

Puke Ariki, Taranaki in New Zealand was probably the model we followed most closely, and that opened in I think 2003. Like us, they have been on a long convergence journey and have continually changed structures and services. It is a library, a museum, touring space, tourist information and has two restaurants. It’s in New Plymouth, North Island in New Zealand. It’s brought enormous economic revitalisation to the waterfront. We’ve had some apartment blocks built across the road that I think probably having this cultural facility here, there was a more of an impetus to build those buildings.

Collection policy
So when we started our research we were looking at what models were out there. We were also asking ourselves what were the synergies between libraries and museum. Collection management was certainly the first area that we looked at. At that time we had a museum manager, a library manager, and an art gallery manager. The museum manager accepted a range of objects and documents into her collection, and the Library Local Studies collected documents, maps and photographs. So we thought, well, wouldn’t it make sense that we dealt with the local studies in the museum collection as one so that we’re not double collecting.

We’re actually dealing with it as one collection where there may be secondary sources, like a map. We don’t have to decide, oh, no, does that belong in the local studies collection, or does that belong in the museum collection. Well, no, it belongs in the Albury City Heritage Collection.

When we were looking at the design or the thought for this building, we started thinking how it could become that hub of library and museum convergence. If you’re a serious researcher, you could get a book off the shelf and also be able to look up the catalogue. To do that, obviously everything needed to be on one catalogue. Then we started thinking, well, what about the gallery collection.

Merging databases
At that stage we didn’t actually own our library catalogue. We were part of a regional library service. We’re no longer. So we didn’t actually own that library data. So we couldn’t at that stage move towards one consolidated database. We had to look at building a search engine, at that stage, across three separate databases: the library catalogue, the museum catalogue and the art gallery catalogue.

The first step was because we owned the data for both the gallery and the museum we were able to merge that data into the database. We put in a grant and were able to develop a search engine that operated across LIBERO, which is a library catalogue, then the other two.

We employed a collection manager Jim McCain to manage the process. He dealt with some of the entrenched issues associated with the different fields used in galleries, libraries and museums. He was able to develop the search engine to search the fields across the two databases. Now that we own our library data, we can look at one consolidated database.

Staff restructure
We started working under a converged management structure in 2006. We’ve had three staff structures since then. So every two years we change our staff structure, 2006, 2008, and we just changed it a couple of weeks ago, 2010. And we learn as we go along.

Outreach and Public Programs
We have an educationalist. She’s got an education and visual arts background. She has four staff under her who had some specialties in museum, library, and visual arts so they’re able to work across all program areas. Whilst they have specialties in particular areas, they have flexibility that they can take a tour of school kids to the art gallery even if their specialty is library. We’re able to package programs to incorporate all of our venues and we’ll have one staff member to take that tour.

Audience development
Audience development probably was another major thrust and why we went towards convergence quite aggressively. We really thought that it was very much about providing new opportunities for audience.

In this facility we wanted our traditional library users to come in and not just use our library, but find out about museums. They may not be museum attendees, so when we developed the design brief for the building, we made sure that there were spaces where exhibitions could occur. So it’s really important that we have those wide spaces where we can have some exhibitions and we can flow and bleed some of those areas into each other.

We’re still working out through areas on how to flow a bit better. We have had signage, and we’ve taken it away, and we need to put it back. It works well, that audience development by stealth almost. But we could do it better. Certainly the attendance for this building has been grand for a regional center. We have about 20,000 visitors a month, which is pretty good for a regional center, compared to the old museum, which had 9,000 a year.

In terms of things that haven’t worked well, you’re working without those established boundaries and alongside people with professional knowledge. We came to convergence and popped people into positions they didn’t necessarily have the skills and background for. So we moved immediately from having, as I said before, having a library manager, a museum manager and a gallery manager, to having an operations team leader and a programs team leader.

So we moved from three service or facility management positions to two that were across the library, museum and gallery. An operations manager was responsible for collections management, customer service and information management. And my role as programs team leader was responsible for exhibitions, programs and outreach and collection development, so we split out collections.

People floundered. There wasn’t enough change management support. We started implementing the structure at the same time that we moved into this facility. It was all a bit stressful. There were elements of the structure that weren’t working. There wasn’t enough focus given to collection management. Michelle and I, as library trained people, have gained museum qualifications in the last three years and we have a number of other staff also undertaking museum studies at different levels, which is great. Skill development is really important.

There was a demand for programming, and so we put our energy and effort into that. We probably didn’t put our energy so much into curating our own exhibitions or into developing our own collections. There were some staff who probably, from some of the professional areas we had on board, who didn’t buy convergence at all. And I think that and they seemed threatened. If you don’t like change, you leave, or you become very, very, very bitter and you get forced to leave.

Anyway, we changed in our models a few times. Since we’ve put much more focus on collection management. We realise in some areas that that professionalism, that professional knowledge is really important. And so now in our most recent incarnation, which is only a month or so old, we’ve gone back to specialists who manage visual arts, libraries and our heritage collection.

So we have acknowledged that but we still have the convergence. We realise that probably you need someone to be responsible for facility, not responsible for certain functions in the facility, so that facility management.
You need someone ultimately responsible for the library museum and the gallery. We didn’t have that previously. We had someone responsible for the bits of the library museum and bits of the gallery. But there is still converged programming and converged exhibitions within the collections area.

We received quite a lot of industry flak, particularly from the visual arts area. I’ll say that. There was a real feeling because we didn’t have a director of the gallery or a position named a curator, that we had downgraded the gallery. I think that in the library museum industry looked at us with interest. Not as aggressively as the visual arts sector did.

CAN interviewed Carina Clement at the Albury City LibraryMuseum on the 28th of April 2010.


A story of beauty, connection and healing: Lee Darroch

The possum skin cloak revitalisation project has become central to the healing process in many communities across Victoria. Contemporary artist Lee Darroch says when a person puts a cloak over their shoulders, their spine stiffens with pride. She sees the cloaks as an opportunity to help communities develop a stronger understanding of where they came from and learn their ancestors’ stories.

In 1999, Darroch first became fascinated with possum skin cloaks after seeing the original Lake Condah cloak (1872) in the Melbourne Museum. It is only one of two original cloaks remaining in Australia and there are six cloaks in collections in the United States and Europe. Over the last ten years, Darroch has worked with sisters Vicki and Debra Couzens, Treahna Hamm, Maree Clarke and Amanda Reynolds to not only teach but also make contemporary cloaks that have been acquired by major collecting institutions across the country. The Collections Australia Network (CAN) is working with these women to upload the cloaks into the national collection database so they can be accessed by curators, researchers and the general public.

This is video interview was made at Lee Darroch’s studio on Raymond Island, Gippsland where she has started making possum skin cloaks for babies and children.


Challenges ACMI face: Nick Richardson

ACMI’s Collections and Access Manager Nick Richardson talks to CAN about the challenges the new Mediatheque deals with onsite and online — from access rights and digital preservation to audience evaluation and reporting to its content partners. In September 2009 it opened in Melbourne’s Federation Square as the shopfront for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) collections. The Centre has managed to secure 13 content partners – all of the television networks, government agencies, major educational institutions dealing with moving image and sound, together with a number of the production houses. The collaboration has allowed Mediatheque users to access a million items, including 160, 000 items predominantly on traditional analog forms, tape, disc, film from ACMI’s collection.

Please take us on a tour of the Mediatheque.
Each of the 11 booths in the room has a tape and disc combo player. We’re really excited we’ve now got digitised content on what we call the VOD, or the video on demand system, which is a touch screen interface in each of the booths. There’s a range of curated highlighted packages, which allow us to illuminate aspects of the collection or provide a way into the collection because of an event or an activity, or a period of year. We’ve obviously got a package of stories, as well as the films of Adam Elliot to coincide with the exhibition which is going on downstairs, which we should have a look at. Also, as you pointed out then, a range of films, from filmmakers while they were still at school generally. This one is Sarah Watt, Gillian Armstrong, Chris Noonan, Phil Noyce, Jane Campion, and so on.

The idea of the interface is that, with as little effort as possible, you can be watching content. We’re trying to cater to both users of the collection, from an educational and research point of view, to work on an entertainment point of view, if you like.
We don’t have any intentions to put the VOD online. We’ve also had to renegotiate the rights to virtually every title in here. It’s one thing to hold a copy of “Storm Boy” in our collection, for instance. The copyright laws allow us to show that on site, but only in the form that we originally purchased it in. We get life of print rights; we don’t have the rights to make a digital copy of anything in our collection. We’ve actually had to go back and negotiate those rights with virtually every one of the currently 500 titles in here.

That’s what’s really time consuming, and something that often people who come and use the collection don’t quite understand. It has been a criticism of ACMI’s collection in the past. People will say, “Why can’t we just put them all on DVD?” Well, for the simple fact that we’ve done is, we’ve got life of print rights and they don’t include the transfer of that material from one form to another.

What is ACMI’s digital preservation policy?
ACMI’s an interesting case, in the sense that we are not an archive. In the case of “Storm Boy”, “Storm Boy” was provided to us from the NFSA. Through the process of digitising it we have returned to them the uncompressed digital asset, and we are holding the compressed H264 digital asset for use in the VOD, and that forms part of our normal business IT backup process. ACMI is an access collection, so anything that we found that was rare and significant, we would repatriate to an archive anyway and negotiate to hold and access copy of that.

So, we have a cultivation responsibility, if you like, to try and preserve our items within our collection for use for as long as possible, but we’re not an archive, so anything that we have found in our collection that is rare or unique has been repatriated to the relevant archive whether that’s in Australia or oversees.

We’ve got a kind of preservation responsibility to insure that our access items are kept in good condition and available for as long as possible, and particularly because when what we do is we acquire extended rights to lend, for instance, based on print not content. So, in some cases we’ve paid $1, 000 for the tape. It’s in our interest to look after that tape as well as we can to provide as much and ongoing access to it as we can. But, certainly the process now, having got the media to open and establish these partnerships, is then to begin to discuss with those other partners how we can facilitate access to material and be part of the digital preservation process of those titles. And, you know, like most organisations we’re still to some extent working our way through exactly what is the best digital preservation path to take.

I’m an old filmie, I guess. I remain healthily skeptical of the digital age in the sense that the looniest films can still be projected, and even if every 35mm projector in the world broke, you could still shine a light through the image and put a lens in front of it and see the image. So, it’s a tangible medium that actually proven over a 130 years, or whatever it is, it’s preservation credentials. So, I don’t think we’re alone in approaching the digital preservation area with some caution. And one of the things that’s been really good for ACMI, again this collaboration and also working with some of the other collection agencies in Victoria, we’re part of a group, a cultural network, that’s discussing the issues, so we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or go down a preservation path in isolation. We’re actually part of now a broader community that’s addressing those issues. So, that’s a good thing for us.

I noticed that you have developed some great partnerships with Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) and the Council of Australian Museum Directors. Do you see the boundaries changing within the collecting sector?
It’s not only how ACMI’s viewing itself. I think it’s how others in that cultural network are viewing ACMI. I think for a long time film was seen as little more than entertainment. Now it’s really holding it’s place as both a medium of art and also a medium of legitimate social and historical research. It’s not just filmmakers that use our collection. It’s social historians that use our collection because the films are viewed more as documents now along aside the other more traditional paper-based documents, and particularly new media art. Now, we have galleries here at ACMI, because what we display is art, and so I think there’s been a bit of a shift in that dynamic.

You can see that now in the emerging academic discourse on video games. I mean there’s the new example of that, that video games have always been considered as frivolous entertainment, and now there’s a growing academic discourse about them, and more and more the games themselves are more moving image and less game if you like.

I think the medium we deal with has now a different perception in the community, so it’s made it easier to be part of that network. And increasingly people like the gallery to hold new media artworks too. So we’re also in a position to provide galleries expertise in how to display and how to preserve.

We’re working with the Shepparton Regional Art Gallery at the moment because we hold a video installation by an artist they’re doing a retrospective of, so they’ve sought our permission for us to provide them copies of that, but more importantly, in a way, they’re also seeking some expert advice on how they should display a five screen synchronous new media installation.

What is ACMI’s plan for online?
We don’t have any intentions to put the VOD online. We’ve also had to renegotiate the rights to virtually every title in here. It’s one thing to hold a copy of “Storm Boy” in our collection, for instance. The copyright laws allow us to show that on site, but only in the form that we originally purchased it in. We get life of print rights; we don’t have the rights to make a digital copy of anything in our collection. We’ve actually had to go back and negotiate those rights with virtually every one of the currently 500 titles in here.

That’s what’s really time consuming, and something that often people who come and use the collection don’t quite understand. It has been a criticism of ACMI’s collection in the past. People will say, “Why can’t we just put them all on DVD?” Well, for the simple fact that we’ve done is, we’ve got life of print rights and they don’t include the transfer of that material from one form to another.

ACMI produces quite a bit of its own content. We work very closely with community groups, regional groups and schools to produce digital stories. Some of that content is already on our website, but personally, there’s no doubt that online delivery of content is part and parcel of where we’re moving towards. The effort involved in contacting every rights holder and negotiating the rights to put what we can present on site, up online is fairly daunting.

We were very lucky to negotiate with Animal and the production company for “Mary and Max,” to be able to put “Mary and Max” here in the Mediatheque to coincide with the exhibition downstairs for a limited period of time. Now that was a bit of a coup for us to be able to put a currently, commercially viable title, free, onsite and I think it’s been watched almost three hundred times since we’ve put it up.

But if we approached the production company or indeed the distributor of the DVD asking if we could put it up online the answer would probably be, “No”. The major concerns there are about the protection of their intellectual property. So I’m quite happy to proceed cautiously and slowly with that.

The National Film Board of Canada has an absolutely fantastic website with a tremendous amount of content, but it’s content that they own the rights to. Both ACMI and the NFSI own very little of what we hold. So it’s certainly something that’s on our agenda for the future, but it’s something that I’m very happy to proceed cautiously with. My model is to show material in a way that is not disadvantaging anybody’s commercial opportunity.

We’d like to think that people come to the exhibition, watch twenty minutes of “Mary and Max” and then think, “Oh, this is so good, I’ll buy a copy and take it home.” So we’re, I’m trying to build the model progressively to show that in any stage of the development of the Mediatheque we’re protecting people’s rights, we like to think we’re, if anything, enhancing the commercial opportunity for them to exploit their own content but that our paramount importance is two-fold – one is to protect people’s rights and the other is to get this material seen by researchers, academics, actors, filmmakers, members of the general public.

What is your approach to negotiating rights?
I’ve deliberately shied away from complicating the rights negotiation for the media take with any suggestion of online just because I think, again, it’s about building a good model here and then allowing people to feel comfortable that, “We’ve operated this for, ” let’s say, “two years and the model’s worked well, ” and we’ve proceeded with integrity you know in respecting in rights and in cultural issues. And then we can begin to target how to, what we want to put online and how we want to go about it. And then go back to those rights holders. And some will be easier than others. So, in the case of Adam, his first three films before “Harvey Crumpet, ” he kinds of considers have run their course and he’s done as much with them as he’s ever likely to and his attitude is a bit more relaxed about them. So we have broadcast quality masters of those three films with rights to exhibit and basically use within ACMI’s premises any way we see fit. I would think that negotiating with him to put, you know, either the whole title or snippets of that title online would be less problematic than it would be negotiating with Grundy to put an episode of one of their soap operas that they’re still selling on DVD up online.

How do you manage audience evaluation?

We collect three types of user stats from the view on demand system. One is popular titles, so we basically just count the number of times a title is viewed. We also monitor the method in which that title has been found. So, the people who have gone to a title through a highlights package, or through one of the explore categories, or have they done a search specifically for that title. That’s quite revealing.

The other thing we do is monitor the percentage of each title viewed. So, we’ve got “The Sentimental Bloke,” which goes for however long “The Sentimental Bloke” goes for. We’ve also got “Kid Stakes,” a 1927 Australian feature film. It’s silent. It goes for an hour and eight minutes. Are people watching all of it, or are they just watching six minutes of it?
That’s a really important stat, because it allows us to consider which areas of the view on demand content we grow. If we’ve got 20 pre ’50s Australian feature films, and people are only watching six minutes of them, then do we really need to put a whole lot more pre ’50s feature films on? We’re monitoring is patrons’ session times. So, how long are people spending in each booth? How many titles in each session are they watching? Are they watching only six minutes of “Kid Stakes,” but then six minutes of “The Sentimental Bloke,” then all of “Storm Boy,” and then a video art?

We’re trying to build up a picture of what people are watching, what they’re watching it in combination with, and how they get into what they watch. We’ve only been collecting the stats. It’s been quite difficult to get it up and running. We’ve only been collecting the stats for about eight weeks, but already, a really interesting pattern of usage is starting to emerge. We get, on average, about 100 people a day. We’re open seven days a week. On school holidays, that rises to between 150 and 200. We find that people generally stay about an hour. That includes the people who wander in and say, “What’s this place? What are you doing here?” and will say, “I’ll just have a little look,” and an hour later, they’ve watched three short films. People come in and start with something that’s familiar to them, and then use that as the springboard to branch out into other things. I actually find the TV ads are incredibly popular. I suspect because they’re short, and they put people in mind of a past very quickly. But then, they’ll often use them to branch out and watch other things. The stats collection is really pretty clear to what we do.

Its something that we’re able to report back to our content partners. It’s very heartening to be able to say to someone like the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, who have been enormously supportive of us. “We’ve got 38 titles in our collection from you, in the VOD from you, and this is how many times they’ve been watched, and these are the popular titles,” and so on. It’s a good reporting function for our partners, as much as anything.

Sarah Rhodes interviewed ACMI Collection Manager Nick Richardson on May 4, 2010 in the Mediatheque.